Q. Hi, Johnnie. I’ve been training for about five years and with my natural frame I’ve got pretty huge quads. I don’t want to add any more size to them but I’m not really satisfied with their strength. Can you suggest the best way to train these muscles specifically for increased strength? —Rick Mamone Tacoma, Washington
A. Yours is a common question, Rick, but I can definitely help you out. There’s really nothing complicated about what you’re trying to do. The answer in one word is squat. The best way to add power to your quads is to recruit those fast-twitch muscle fibers that give you explosive strength by doing heavy-weight, low-rep squats. The standard squat is the primary exercise for quad strength because it allows you to work with the heaviest weight, and that’s the foundation for power. Other variations of the squat like the box squat and hack squat require a few more reps per set. (See my quad strength routine below) These variations are helpful for hitting the same muscle group from different angles and are efficient in inducing power output from a wide range of muscle fibers.
Related: Squats: 6 Tips for Bigger Gains
The key to maximizing your strength development by squatting is to make sure you drop a little below parallel at the bottom of the motion. This way you’ll tear down more fibers and in the long term you’ll recover stronger. In my routine I squat for two warm-up sets of five reps using 225 and 315 pounds respectively. When I move on to the three working sets of five reps each, I begin with a set at 405, then a set at 515 and I peak with a set of 600–650 pounds. You should get a good idea of the even progression here. The key is to go heavy to the point where you’ve given it everything you’ve got by the time you hit that fifth rep. If you do this, while staying within your capacity for good form, you’ll see your power ability steadily shoot up as the weeks go by.
Johnnie’s Quad Strength Routine
* Includes two warm-up sets using lighter weight.
JJ’s Tip for Hot Squats
A lot of people seem to relax their arms and hands after they get under the bar and grasp it, but to be able to lift the heaviest weight possible, you should cock your wrists slightly underneath the bar rather than resting them in a neutral position, or worse, on top of the bar. On the positive part of the movement, you should get a feel for pushing the weight upward with your shoulders, as if you were doing a military press. This technique will help you add more weight. Stay tight on the negative, and then as soon as you’ve bottomed out, think of both your lower and upper body pressing up simultaneously.